A Blantyre woman whose vision has been impaired by three different eye conditions is fronting a nationwide drive to explain the complexity of sight loss.
Lorraine Warnock (38) is backing the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s ‘How I See’ campaign, which aims to counter misperceptions that blindness means seeing nothing at all.
In fact, 93 per cent of registered blind or partially sighted people can see something. But their impairment can still impact severely on their lives.
“Sight loss is very misunderstood,” Lorraine says. “When I tell people about being registered blind, the majority can’t get their head around me being able to read, write, have my own place or see what they look like.”
Lorraine developed chronic bilateral pan uveitis when she was 24, which makes her vision very light-sensitive and painful. “It’s like being poked in the eye when you try to focus on something,” she explains.
“This led to secondary glaucoma in my right eye at 29 and I completely lost the sight in it within a couple of months. Then, at 30, I developed secondary glaucoma in my remaining eye and gradually lost the majority of the sight in that eye within a year. I now have less than 5 degrees of central vision left, which is like looking through a straw at a spot on the wall, and am registered blind.”
This, in turn, triggered Charles Bonnet Syndrome “where the brain tries to replace the images it thinks I’m missing. I have quite a sadistic brain which makes me see objects flying in my face, people walking into me, and cars driving at me.”
RNIB’s ‘How I See’ campaign was prompted by members like Lorraine, who expressed frustration over the lack of understanding about the true nature of blindness and partial sight.
Campbell Chalmers, director of RNIB Scotland, said: “The eye is a complex part of the body and there are over 200 eye conditions that affect sight to different degrees. Thousands of people each year are diagnosed with the most common eye conditions. A smaller number of people, like Lorraine, have rarer conditions.
“Everyone sees differently. This ranges from people with perfect sight (‘20/20 vision’) to those who see darkness or nothing at all. That said, 93 per cent of registered blind or partially sighted people can see something, which can come as a surprise to the general public.
“But what people can and can’t see can manifest itself in any number of visual combinations. Some people have little peripheral (side) vision but clear central vision. Others may only be able to make out some colours, may not be able to judge space and distance well (poor or no depth perception) or are completely blind in the dark (poor night vision, also known as ‘night blindness’).
“What we want to put across in the ‘How I See’ campaign is that just because someone is blind, it doesn’t mean they see nothing, and if someone is partially sighted, it doesn’t mean their vision is fine.”
The campaign also explains that for many visually impaired people their remaining sight is unstable. Often they experience changes over the years and may need to relearn how to adapt to living with further sight loss.
Lorraine hopes it will help people understand the wide range of sight loss: “I come across a lot of people who want me to prove my sight loss - I get a lot of hands and fingers shoved in my face - instead of asking for an explanation of my sight because I don’t look blind. Blind people are normal people. We do normal people things, want normal people things. So waving your hand in my face or asking me to count your fingers isn’t really appropriate.”